Cheese 101 (Part 1)
There are four stages to making cheese:
- Coagulation (or curdling): This is when the proteins contained in the milk coagulate in response to the bacteria or rennet.
- Drainage: This is when the water is removed from the curd making it firmer. The amount of water drained will determine the firmness and texture of the cheese.
- Salting: This acts as an antiseptic, slowing down the development of microorganisms. This improves the stage of life of the cheese and speeds up the drying process and the formation of the rind. Cheeses can be salted from the outside (dry salting) or by a brining bath.
- Ripening (or maturing): This is the period in which the inside of the cheese is transformed. This is a crucial stage because this is when the consistency, aroma, flavor and if desired, the rind of the cheese develops. Note that curd cheeses and process cheeses are not ripened. The longer the cheese will be.
Choose: cheese that are soft inside as well as out, with a creamy, consistent interior that is even in color and completely fills the rind, which should be smooth and not dry or cracked.
Avoid: cheese with a solid, firm, chalky-white center, a sticky rind, a dark color or an ammonia smell. A hard rind and dry interior are signs of a cheese that has not been properly stored.
Choose: cheeses that are neither dried out nor too crumbly. The interior of the cheese close to the rind should not be darker in color. They should not taste spoiled or sharp.
Choose: cheeses with an even color and consistency and firm rind.
Avoid: dried out or bulging cheeses that are pasty or too grainy, with a cracked rind. They should not taste too salty or too bitter.
Choose: cheeses with a smaller or greater number of veins, depending on the variety, spread evenly throughout the interior of the cheese. The interior, which is usually white, should not be crumbly, too dry to too salty.
Check the “use-by date” on the packaging and avoid cheeses that are left at room temperature.
The storage life of cheeses mainly depends on their moisture content.
In the fridge: wrap the cheese well in a sheet of cheese paper or plastic wrap and place in the warmest area of the fridge.
Fresh and blue-veined cheeses are placed 7-10 days in an airtight or tightly wrapped.
Soft cheeses kept a short time, especially when they have become ripe.
Semi-firm cheeses keep for several weeks.
Firm cheeses keep for 2 weeks.
Grated cheeses keep for 1 week.
Cheeses can also be stored at a temperature of 50°-55°. Surface-ripened cheeses (bloomy-rind, washed-rind) should not be vacuum-packed or sealed airtight.
For better flavor, remove cheeses from the fridge at least 30 minutes before eating them. If mold has developed on the surface of a firm cheese, cut off ½ -¾ inches around the mold and cover with another piece of wrapping.
Discard fresh and soft cheese with such mold.
In the freezer: freeze pieces ¾ inches thick that weigh a maximum of 1 pound for 2 ½ -3 months. Dry cheeses tolerate freezing better than moist cheeses (fresh cheeses don’t freeze). Defrosting reduces the flavor of the cheese, making it more crumbly. Defrost cheese in the fridge and use only in cooked dishes.
Only firm cheeses are grated. Cold cheese is easier to grate than cheese left at room temperature.
Cheese melts more easily during cooking if it is shredded, grated or finely chopped. Added to a sauce, it is gently cooked until it just melts, not letting it boil.
Firm cheeses withstand higher temperatures, in particular when used as a topping. Remove the cheese from the heat as soon as it is melted.
SERVING IDEAS FOR CHEESE
Cheese is used for stuffing, topping meats and veggies or as the main ingredient of a dessert. It is prepared with savory dishes- salads, sauces, soups, croquettes, pizzas, pasta dishes, crepes, soufflés, fondues, raclette**, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, omelettes- and sweet dishes (cakes, pies, donuts).
When seasoning a dish, take into account the fact that cheese is generally salty, particularly blue cheeses, whose salty taste is enhanced during cooking.
One cheese may be replaced with another of the same kind. Cheese is often served at the end of a meal or as an appetizer accompanied with wine.
**Raclette cheese is a Swiss semi-firm cows-milk cheese which is most famously used to make a Franco-Swiss dish which also goes by the name “raclette.” Although this cheese originated in Switzerland, it is also made in France, and some American dairies produce their own version of raclette cheese as well. Good raclette cheese is mild, creamy, and slightly nutty, and it is ideally suited for melting; if you have trouble tracking down raclette, you can try using Emmentaler or Jarlsberg cheeses, both of which are usually easy to obtain.